Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Are Critics Necessary?

Are critics necessary?

This is a question I'm mulling over with the announcement that classical music and dance critic for The San Diego Union-Tribune, Valerie Scher, has accepted a buy-out with no plans to replace her.

I've worked with Valerie for nearly a decade now and have come to consider her a friend as much as a colleague. Sure, from time to time we didn't always see eye to eye but her unique charm, insight and voice is what made our local paper, well, local.

While I embrace the democratizing of information and opinion via such sites as Yelp, Amazon, Epinions and the dozens of blogs I read each day I think something should be said for the voice of experience, the voice of consistency -- a "cultural gatekeeper" if you will. Especially on a local level. San Diego still is a small town despite what we want to believe.

From where I stand (and I stand in a unique position of working with the critics as the PR guy here) I always thought the best criticism wasn't always the criticism I agreed with, but the criticism I wanted to tear apart and debate -- criticism that made me think, made me face my own limitations as a listener and ultimately, made me learn something new. I think all of our local critics provide that, and would hate to see our local cultural criticism be replaced by wire stories.

So, are professional critics losing their clout? Or is there still a need for a unique voice in this endless sea of information and opinion?

- Edward


Heather Tinley said...

Credibility has been a hot topic in PR classes across the country. PR students are learning to utilize word of mouth and guerilla tactics to bypass the traditional media that many say have lost the faith of their audience. This is true for younger generations who rely on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" for their news, but many opera patrons are older and may still see The Critic as The Authority on Opera. Or is he/she? I'm curious how many companies report spikes in ticket sales after a favorable review. I know we've had glowing reviews of operas, but those reviews don't always translate to ticket sales. Is this common among other opera companies? And if The Critic doesn't influence ticket sales, what purpose does he/she serve? Perhaps, as you suggest, The Critic's job is to hold a mirror to the opera company and reflect on that reflection. If this is the case, a business critic might be a better authority to rely on - but how often do opera companies use media criticism to adjust their business practices? Edward, I think you raise not only an interesting, but critical point - are critics necessary, and what role should they play?

Fred Tracey said...

I worked with Valerie for nearly a decade. What I respected most was that she genuinely cared about what she was covering. She wrote about declining audiences and questioned why. I'm not surprised by this news of a buyout considering the overall shrinkage of arts coverage (especially with the pathetic Sunday arts "section") in the UT. Hopefully the UT will at least utilize freelancers so the paper won't become even more back watered.